How To Identify Fleas On Your Pet

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Fleas may be small (1 to 2mm long) but they can cause big problems for your dog, cat and family members.

Their bites are an annoyance and can be very itchy, causing your pet to scratch—especially if it’s allergic to flea saliva. Too much scratching can lead to skin infections, for one thing, not to mention that a flea can also spread disease. That’s why it’s important that your pet is given a preventive medication regularly. Year-round protection is optimal.

If you think your pet has become infested, would you know how to identify a flea? Locating the bites is an easy way to initially identify a flea problem before you've located the fleas themselves.

First, you’ll want to look for red, irritated and broken skin on areas of your pet such as the neck, ears, belly or hindquarters. Fleas especially prefer thicker, furrier areas of your pet to hide in as well as the nooks and crannies, i.e., in between your pet's joints, near the base of the tail or in neck folds.

If you comb your pet’s hair from back to front, you can get a better look at its skin. Flea combs are available at pet stores, but really any fine-toothed comb will do. The fleas may appear red or brown in color. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the small brown object is really a flea or if it’s just a bit of soil or flea feces - also known as flea dirt - in your pet’s fur. Flea dirt is made up of digested blood.

Fleas don’t turn color when they die. If they’re reddish brown to begin with, they’re likely reddish brown when dead. If you are looking how to distinguish dead fleas from flea feces, the fleas will be bigger (about 1/16” to 1/8” long; about the size of a small grain of rice). Flea dirt is more like tiny specks.

If the speck in moving, it’s probably a flea. You can pick up some of the suspected flea dirt in a white tissue or paper towel, apply a small drop of water, and see if the black particles turn reddish brown after a couple of seconds. So, even if you don’t see fleas, if you see the dirt and it turns brownish red, you know fleas are there. Even if you find a dead flea, you should still continue searching for live ones.

The degree of infestation can vary considerably. One female flea can lay about 50 eggs per day.

To check the environment in which your pet lives for fleas, i.e., bedding, try walking around with white socks on where the pet spends most of its time. Because fleas are attracted to white, they will jump on the socks and you’ll be able to identify them from their reddish brown or black bodies (plus if alive, they can move).

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you've positively identified the fleas and then consult your veterinarian immediately. Many options are available to control and prevent fleas, and a veterinarian’s recommendation is necessary for choosing the best preventive product for your pet.